Cornwell looks for an improvement in discipline ahead of Knights visit

After a week off for many, Hartpury are back in this business this Saturday when Doncaster Knights come to the Alpas Arena.

“It wasn’t a bad week to have a break”, said Head Coach, Mark Cornwell.

“We had a few players going back to their parent clubs for the Premiership Cup and also a few of our boys out on loan to our partner clubs for the same reason, so we knew the squad would take a bit of hit last week and this.”

Prior to that, the Reds and Blacks had suffered a defeat on the road in Jersey, a game in which they started reasonably and finished strongly – only to lose control of proceedings to two tries in three minutes either side of half-time.

“Jersey Reds delivered exactly what we expected,” said Cornwell.  “They were very physical, very direct and, through our own indiscipline, we gifted them any number of opportunities to come and play in our 22.”

“We knew that they had a strong driving lineout and we spoke about limiting their opportunities to make use of that.  Instead, we went out and did the complete opposite.”

“When you are up against a team with a very strong drive, you can potentially stop two or three – which we did early on – but it’s harder to stop seven or eight.”

“It’s a tough area to defend, but we’ve got to look at ourselves and our lack of discipline.  In our last two games we’ve given away a combined total of well over 30 penalties.  If that’s your starting point, you’re going to be behind the 8-ball in every match.”

“If you look at our earlier home wins over the Pirates and Coventry, the penalty count was stacked in our favour.  It’s no coincidence that good results come from that.”

“It comes from a combination of factors – a lot of young players and a lot of changes to the playing squad on a weekly basis – but we know what we’re dealing with here.  We get to train together on-field for maybe three to four hours per week which makes a difference when you come up against full-time professional clubs, but we’ve got to deal with that on match-days and become squeaky clean.”

Doncaster Knights, as another full-time club, will represent a similar level of challenge to Jersey.  Games between Hartpury and the Knights have often been hard-fought, entertaining affairs and the Red and Blacks have enjoyed some home success against the Yorkshire side in the meetings since our promotion in 2017.

Perhaps the most memorable home display was back in that first season when a Harry Randall-inspired Hartpury – the England scrum-half grabbed a hat-trick that day – snatched a bonus point win late in the game.

Last season’s match at the Alpas might have gone similar way, as Hartpury threatened another come-back after allowing the Knights to build a big early lead, but a late Doncaster try ultimately gave them an 11-point victory.   

The Knights currently sit fourth in the Championship table, three points and three places ahead of Hartpury, after a solid start in which they have won four and lost two.  They have yet to play either of the current leaders, Ealing or the Pirates, although they did beat Jersey at home by a three-point margin, in a game where Sam Olver kicked five penalties.

“We should be in decent shape for this game,” said Cornwell.  “There will be some changes following the Jersey game, but we’ve got a few more options than we expected to have when we looked at the fixture a few weeks ago and there are one two back from injury.”

“The way that Doncaster recruit and the fact that they are a full-time club leads to everybody, quite rightly, to expect a lot from them.”

“They’re not too far above us at the moment but we’re coming into the game on the back of two losses, whereas they’ve won their past three.”

“They are another club who have a fairly set playing style so we know what to expect.  Equally we know what we have to do and the boys have trained well this week, so a club like the Knights represents a perfect challenge for us this weekend.”

Conditions should be good for the match, which kicks off at the earlier than usual time of 1.30pm.  Hartpury will announce the match-day squad tomorrow.

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